When I was a teenager, my parents and I would go to the next town over once a month. One of the stores we would frequent was Books-A-Million, and I always saw a copy of The Golem and the Jinni. Not knowing anything about it, I would resolve to go home and skim reviews to see if I should get it (skimming to avoid spoilers, not because I’m lazy). But I would always forget to do that by the time I returned home. And so the process would begin again. When I found a copy of the novel in my library, how could I resist finally learning the novel’s quality?
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.
Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.
Humans from Two Perspectives
A common theme in fantasy and science fiction is looking at humans from an outsider perspective. Whether it’s from the viewpoint of an alien, a robot, some spirit from another world, or something else, these books ask the reader to look at both people as a whole and themselves in particular from a new perspective. While this theme as a whole is common, The Golem and the Jinni does something that I don’t think I’ve encountered before. This book looks at humanity from two perspectives. In addition, the two perspectives are very different from each other.
Chava is a golem, a person made from clay and brought to life through holy magic. Golems are born knowing their purpose in life, to serve their master. Chava’s situation is unique because she is made more intelligent and emotional than most other golems (at least in this literary universe) and also since her master dies not long after she is activated. Meanwhile, Ahmad is a Jinni. While he can shapeshift, Jinni are never truly flesh and bone instead being composed of fire. Furthermore, Jinni are about as free as the desert wind. They have no masters, no servants, and no responsibilities. They do whatever they want, whenever they want, and they never really consider or deal with the consequences.
While a few pieces might have humans from two perspectives at once, such discussions usually take the form of a passing conversation where one of the aliens says, “Those humans are weird, am I right?” I personally don’t recall any work that focused on this dual perspective. I always love seeing different approaches to similar themes, and this book delivered exactly that.
Avoiding Romance Clichés
When I started this book, I was worried that it would be a pretty cliché fantasy romance stories. However, it seemed to actively try to avoid plenty of the pitfalls. I had initially believed that there was going to be romance between Chava and Ahmad, but they actually distrust each other initially. Even after they get past that distrust, they can’t really understand each other. Furthermore, they develop romantic relationships with other people. I love it when my expectations are thrown back at me.
I should have bought this book years ago when I first saw it. Fortunately, I rediscovered the book and was able to experience it. After I dropped this book off at the library, I purchased my own copy on my Kindle.